Bono may have modestly described U2 as “the best rock ‘n’ roll band on the north side of Dublin”, but the rock legends clearly have bigger clout than that. Their first stint down under in nine years, the tour drew what felt like the entire population of Sydney to the SCG last night.
The first of two massive shows at the stadium, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds kicked off the night. Despite the drizzle, a decent crowd had already begun to stream into the SCG as Gallagher powered through his solo catalogue. “You won’t know this song but it’s fucking amazing,” he quipped before rocking out ‘This Is the Place’.
Although he seemed to be having a good laugh, Gallagher was clearly less impressed with
the downpour and the crowd’s use of raingear. “Why are you wearing ponchos? We deal with this every week in the UK and you don’t see us wearing ponchos. You fucking pussies,” he smirked.
Gallagher bookended the performance with Oasis classics ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. Clearly on a roll with crowd pleasers, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds closed out the set with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’.
The rain cleared up just in time for the lights to dim and the crowd exploded as the familiar opening riff of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ swelled throughout the stadium. Bathed in crimson light, U2 seemingly appeared out of nowhere at the end of the platform runway and in the thick of the crowd. Right off the bat, Bono’s showmanship was undeniable. At almost 60 years old, he sauntered up and down the stage runway with palpable energy.
The mammoth 24-song setlist was divided into three acts. In the first, the Irish rockers smashed through hits like ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘New Year’s Day’. But Bono really flexed his vocal prowess on ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’, as his talents were only amplified by the echoed chorus of the crowd.
As they eased into the main event of the night, a massive silhouette of the Joshua Tree lit up with twinkling red lights. U2 played the iconic 1987 album in full and in sequence. For better or for worse, this meant that this part of the show was front-loaded with some its biggest thing hits. Stellar renditions of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘With or Without You’ gave the crowd plenty of reasons to sing and dance. However, it did mean there was a lull in the atmosphere during lesser crowd-pleasing tunes like ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ and ‘Red Mill Mining Town’.
The show boasted the largest LED screen ever used in a live gig, which dwarfed the band to ant-sized proportions and largely featured striking visuals of political messages and American desert landscapes. Although captivating, I’m sure fans in the nosebleeds would’ve appreciated some more screen-time dedicated to footage of the band’s performance.
Last night’s show at the SCG was as much a dedication to INXS frontman Michael Hutchence as it was The Joshua Tree album. This is because their first Sydney show happened to fall on the 22nd anniversary of Hutchence’s death and, as a close friend of Bono’s, tributes to his life were sprinkled throughout the show. Such tributes included remxing ‘Devil Inside’ into ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ into ‘New Year’s Day’.
“22 years ago today, one of your country’s brightest lights went dark,” Bono told the crowd before leading into an acoustic rendition of INXS’ iconic anthem.”He was a light for me and a lot of us. Can we have a moment in the dark and shine our light for Michael Hutchence?”
Although there were plenty to choose from, the most touching moment was the band’s performance of ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’. The song is, of course, an homage to Hutchence and wasn’t originally included on the set list, making it a particularly special moment for the Sydney crowd. Accompanied by footage and photographs of Hutchence, many tears were shed as we shone our phone lights and swayed in unison in respect to the late icon.
The third act of the show was an 8-song encore of bangers plucked from later parts of the U2 era. “Are you ready to get high?” Bono asked menacingly as the screen filled with technicoloured smoke and piercing coos of ‘Elevation’ poured through the stadium.
At this point in the show, one rogue fan managed to leap on to the stage with the band. But rather than letting them fall to the wrath of the security who instantly lunged into action, Bono pushed them aside to dance around the stage with the punter. While embraced with them in some off-kilter waltz, Bono proved that he is still indeed a rock ‘n’ roll front-man for the people.
‘Vertigo’ and ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ were other fan favourites but an acoustic version of ‘Every Breaking Wave’ was easily the best vocal performance of the night. Stadium tours aren’t renowned for impressive acoustics and sound quality but with nothing but the Edge on the piano and Bono on the mic, it was a rare, raw musical moment.
After a euphoric performance of ‘Beautiful Day’, Bono bellowed: “When women of the world unite to rewrite herstory, that’s a beautiful day,” before launching into ‘Ultraviolet’.
It was a powerful performance backed by a moving montage some of history’s trailblazing women from the suffragettes and Pussy Riot to Greta Thunberg, Lisa Bellear and Cathy Freeman.
Closing the set with the 1991 anthem ‘One’, the crowd bloomed into a glowing flurry of lights for one final singalong. With one more show set for Sydney tonight, hopefully we won’t have to wait another decade to experience the majesty of U2 in our city again.
U2 will perform again in Sydney tonight and will wrap up the Australian leg of The Joshua Tree tour in Perth next week. Head here for details.